Texts by Jessica De Largy Healy, Georges Petitjean, and Luke Scholes
Aboriginal art can claim to be the earliest form of artistic expression, reaching back reliably some sixty thousand years. Its function has always been to pass down traditions and beliefs through the most varied vehicles, from painting and engraving to sculpture and dyeing, not to mention ceramics and, recently, photography.
The common thread running right through this work is man’s link with the land, the legacy of the ancestors that still echoes in the present. It is no accident that “Before Time Began” is one of the expressions used by Aboriginal artists in central Australia to refer to the creation of the world, in an oneiric sense. Understanding and following this underlying bond enables the reader firstly to explore the art’s narrative content in its association with dreams and the passage of time, elements that inevitably distinguish the temporal dimension in the different societies. But it is also a way of exploring the first stirrings of contemporary art in an Aboriginal context through works made at the beginning of the 1970s in Arnhem Land and in the territory of the Papunya, as well as more recent paintings by artists living in the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara). These last examples in particular highlight the fusion between contemporary art and traditional customs, in which ancestral knowledge is fused with elements drawn from the inevitable march of progress.
The book’s importance lies not only in providing an overview of this art form, but in accompanying the first large-scale exhibition staged by the newly established Fondation Opale (Crans-Montana, 2018), which is built around the collection of its founder, Bérengère Primat.
Jessica De Largy Healy is an anthropologist at the Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative (CNRS – Université Paris Nanterre). Her Ph.D. research involved setting up an experimental digital archive project begun by a group of Yolngu clan chiefs living in Galiwin’ku, in northeastern Arnhem Land. She is a collaborator on various projects organized by European museums concerning the material culture and audiovisual collections of indigenous Australians.
Georges Petitjean is an art historian and obtained his Ph.D. with research on the art of the Western Australian Desert. His main field of research is the transformation of primordial Aboriginal art into contemporary art. He was curator of the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art (AAMU) in Utrecht from 2005 to 2017. Since then, Georges Petitjean has been curator at Collection Bérengère Primat, one of the leading collections of Aboriginal art in the world.
Luke Scholes is curator of Aboriginal Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). He was co-organizer of the Tjungunutja: From Having Come Together exhibition, where various Pintupi, Walpiri, and Luritja artists, who are all linked to the school in Papunja, exhibited their works. Besides having already been awarded several Australian prizes, this project will be on display at Alice Springs in 2019. Luke Scholes has been the coordinator of Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Awards since 2016.